The Ethical Mirage: A Temporal Explanation as to Why We Aren't as Ethical as We Think We Are

64 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2007 Last revised: 5 Aug 2009

See all articles by Ann E. Tenbrunsel

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

University of Notre Dame

Kristina A. Diekmann

University of Utah - Department of Management

Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Max H. Bazerman

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: August 1, 2007

Abstract

This paper explores the biased perceptions that people hold of their own ethicality. We argue that the temporal trichotomy of prediction, action and recollection is central to these misperceptions: People predict that they will behave more ethically than they actually do, and when evaluating past (un)ethical behavior, they believe they behaved more ethically than they actually did. We use the "want/should" theoretical framework to explain the bounded ethicality that arises from these temporal inconsistencies, positing that the "should" self dominates during the prediction and recollection phases but that the "want" self is dominant during the critical action phase. We draw on the research on behavioral forecasting, ethical fading, and cognitive distortions to gain insight into the forces driving these faulty perceptions and, noting how these misperceptions can lead to continued unethical behavior, we provide recommendations for how to reduce them. We also include a call for future research to better understand this phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

Tenbrunsel, Ann E. and Diekmann, Kristina A. and Wade-Benzoni, Kimberly A. and Bazerman, Max H., The Ethical Mirage: A Temporal Explanation as to Why We Aren't as Ethical as We Think We Are (August 1, 2007). Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 08-012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1010385 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1010385

Ann E. Tenbrunsel (Contact Author)

University of Notre Dame ( email )

361 Mendoza College of Business
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5646
United States

Kristina A. Diekmann

University of Utah - Department of Management ( email )

1645 E Campus Center Dr
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
United States
801-581-8524 (Phone)
801-581-7214 (Fax)

Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

Max H. Bazerman

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6429 (Phone)
617-496-4191 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mbazerman

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